Thought Leader | Eurocare: EU alcohol strategy

Written by Mariann Skar on 27 November 2014 in Thought Leader
Thought Leader

The EU must 'take the lead' in tackling alcohol-related harm, writes Mariann Skar.

As we prepare to host the sixth European alcohol policy conference on 27 and 28 November in Brussels, the European Alcohol Policy Alliance (Eurocare) is calling on the new commission to introduce an up to date, comprehensive and evidence-based EU alcohol strategy to reduce alcohol-related harm.

The strategy should be abreast with societal changes – for example the move of alcohol advertising from traditional to new media. A new EU alcohol strategy is needed to lay out a longer term framework for sustainable action at EU level. The strategy should have measurable outcomes and an appropriate evaluation framework, which would ensure the health and wellbeing of EU citizens and contribute to sustainable health systems.

The EU's work on alcohol policy should be based on recommendations from the world health organisation report– 'Alcohol in the European Union: Consumption, harm and policy approaches' (WHO Europe, 2012).

Alcohol is the third main contributory factor to non-communicable disease – it is a cause of some 60 different types of disease and condition, including many cancers, liver disease, cardiovascular diseases, many gastrointestinal conditions, immunological disorders, lung diseases, skeletal and muscular diseases, reproductive disorders and pre-natal harm, including increased risks of prematurity and low birth as well as developmental disorders.

There is a clear causal link between alcohol and a number of cancers – 10 per cent of cancers in men and three per cent of cancers in women are directly attributable to alcohol.

"Harmful alcohol use affects work performance, drains healthcare systems and is a contributory factor in crime, accidents and injuries"

Beyond its health consequences, the harmful use of alcohol inflicts significant social and economic losses on individuals and society at large. In total, the societal costs of alcohol in the EU for 2010 were an estimated €155.8bn.

Alcohol is the world's number one risk factor for ill health and premature death among 25-59 year olds, the core of the working age population. Harmful alcohol use affects work performance, drains healthcare systems and is a contributory factor in crime, accidents and injuries.

The new EU alcohol strategy should add value to support national alcohol strategies. It should not restrict member states' capabilities to implement national policies that prioritise the health and wellbeing of their citizens.

A current and high-profile example of policy failure is the delay being caused to the Scottish government's implementation of its minimum unit pricing (MUP) policy, due to legal challenges by global alcohol producers, prioritising profits over health.

Eurocare is also calling for changes in the commission's approach to stakeholder engagement in relation to alcohol policy. It needs to be acknowledged that economic operators prioritise making a profit from alcohol sales while public health/NGO bodies prioritise promoting health and preventing social harms.

The commission's evaluation of the alcohol strategy to 2012 highlighted that less than three per cent of the total budget of the health programme for 2008-2013 and less than one per cent of the budget for health under the seventh research programme were allocated to alcohol. This is inadequate. The European institutions need to take the lead in preventing and reducing alcohol-related harm.

About the author

Mariann Skar is secretary general of the European Alcohol Policy Alliance

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